HK police vow to crack down on lone-wolf terrorist attacks
Ambiguous attitude put Vitasoy into hot water as Chinese netizens call for a full-scale boycott of its products
Published: Jul 04, 2021 08:50 PM Updated: Jul 04, 2021 09:22 PM
Hong Kong Police Wanchai district headquarters, Aug 21, 2019 Photo: Xinhua

Hong Kong Police Wanchai district headquarters, Aug 21, 2019 Photo: Xinhua

A recent lone wolf-style terrorist act taking place in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay had led to a heated online debate about how some Hong Kong residents could have considered committing an act of terror as a way of expressing opposition toward the government, as instigating or supporting any form of terrorism is absolutely unacceptable and should be firmly condemned. 

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based beverage firm Vitasoy was entangled in the public opinion storm due to its ambiguous attitude toward the incident. Vitasoy's somewhat indulging attitude toward terrorism reflects the company's failure to distinguish right from wrong, said some observers, as a growing number of netizens have called for a full-scale boycott of its products. 

The national security department of the Hong Kong Police Force took over the attempted murder and suicide case that occurred on Thursday at Causeway Bay, in which the suspect, Leung Kin-fai, brutally stabbed a police officer, fatally hurting him, then the attacker committed suicide. The attack showcased the characteristics of "a lone wolf-style act of domestic terrorism," the police said in a statement it sent to the Global Times on Sunday. 

Leung, 50, was an employee of the Hong Kong unit of beverage company Vitasoy.

With more details revealed about this high-profile stabbing that attracted growing public attention, which also aroused concerns over whether "lone-wolf terrorist attacks" would become a tendency in Hong Kong, Vitasoy, where the suspect worked, issued two statements in a row over its ambiguous attitude toward the incident and then sparked public outrage in the Chinese mainland as well as in Hong Kong, as Chinese netizens have called for a complete boycott of the brand. 

A Vitasoy document circulating online since Friday showed the company expressing "deepest condolences" to the family of the attacker.

As of Sunday, at least two mainland actors - Gong Jun and Ren Jialun - announced they would end cooperation with the beverage brand, and several stores in the mainland removed its products, while a Shanghai-based online shopping platform also stop selling them, signaling an unprecedented public confidence crisis that Vitasoy is now facing. 

Glorifying terrorism unacceptable 

The initial police investigation revealed that this was a lone-wolf style act of domestic terrorism in which the attacker was believed to have been radicalized by myriad fake information, but they will not rule out any possibilities, the HKPF said in the statement. The national security department is now conducting active investigations into the case, including whether there were any accomplices involved, whether the attacker was incited by others to commit the crime or whether there was any person in control or support behind the scenes. 

The police officer suffered a punctured lung in the attack on Thursday evening and underwent surgery, and is now in stable condition, the Global Times learned from the police. Leung, the suspect, stabbed himself in the chest after attacking the police officer and died despite emergency rescue efforts.

A number of Hong Kong officials condemned this brutal attack, especially after some people, wearing black T-shirts similar to those worn by violent rioters during the street violence in 2019, went to the attack scene on Friday with flowers to mourn the attacker, a way of glorifying the violence and terrorism. 

John Lee Ka-chiu, chief secretary of the HKSAR government, said on a TV program on Sunday that those who brought flowers to mourn the suspect are ill-intentioned, and that people should not confuse ways to oppose government polices with terrorist acts. 

Lee also warned that if someone provokes or instigates terrorist activities, they may violate the national security law for Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong Secretary of Security Chris Tang Ping-keung on Saturday strongly slammed those mourning the suspect, as there have been messages circulating online that encouraged Hong Kong residents to pay tribute and mourn the attacker who attempted to murder a police officer. There were even parents bringing young children to grieve the attacker's death, trying to glorify, romanticize, make it heroic and even rationalize the blatant violence of the attacker.

Tang told media that the police will take action if such cases cause chaos or other illegal activities, noting that he is "bitterly disappointed" with these people.

According to a video clip online filmed around 10 pm on Thursday night, Leung stabbed the police officer in the back. The officer in a blue uniform with little protective gear also triggered online discussions about whether it is time for the HKPF to upgrade its equipment and gear to fend off risks of such sudden attacks. 

"During an informal discussion before this incident, I had already suggested that the police should wear multi-purpose vest that is stab-proof and reflective besides it can be equipped with guns, and the new commissioner of police is considering it," Lam Chi-wai, chairman of Junior Police Officer Association, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

No training, equipment or weapon can prevent risks 100 percent, and besides enhanced training and gear, it is more important to stay vigilant and have proper risk-evolution on each operation with cautious consideration about which vest, equipment and weapon should be used in police operations, Lam said. 

Regarding concerns over whether "lone-wolf attacks" would become a tendency in Hong Kong, Lawrence Tang Fei, a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Saturday that two factors determine that such a thing is unlikely: Hong Kong's technical superiority over the terrorists and a society where it is hard for residents to develop extremist ideas.

"Hong Kong police have strong capacity in anti-terrorism technology, and they have support from the mainland and have abundant experience with exercises overseas, which is difficult for some individual terrorists in the city to battle with," Tang said.

Moreover, Tang said that Hong Kong does not have a breeding ground for extremist ideas as an individual has to overcome a huge psychological barrier before becoming a terrorist and killing innocent people. "Hong Kong is an entertainment and consumption-oriented city that has remained peaceful for a long time. There is no atmosphere of violence and resentment in its society, so one or two cases of such [lone-wolf attacks] could happen sometimes but they would not 'spread,'" he said.

The Global Times reporter found on Sunday that all the Vitasoy drink products are not available on the Dingdong Maicai, a Shanghai-based online fresh produce and grocery vendor. Photo: Screenshot

The Global Times reporter found on Sunday that all the Vitasoy drink products are not available on the Dingdong Maicai, a Shanghai-based online fresh produce and grocery vendor. Photo: Screenshot

Full-scale boycott 'necessary'

Meanwhile, a Global Times reporter found on Sunday that no Vitasoy drink products were available on Dingdong Maicai, a Shanghai-based online fresh produce and grocery vendor, on Sunday amid overwhelming public criticism over Vitasoy, the employer of the suspect. Observers warned that as a listed beverage firm, which earns over 60 percent of its revenue from the Chinese mainland market, Vitasoy is now facing a life-or-death consumer confidence crisis in the country. 

Vitasoy released a statement on Saturday noon, saying the previous internal memo that used "very improper wording" and caused widespread criticism was written by an "individual employee" unauthorized by the company.

The latest statement came as anger among Chinese mainland and Hong Kong netizens continued to brew after a Vitasoy document circulating online since Friday showed the company expressing "deepest condolences" to the family of the attacker.

The wording of the previous document circulating online is extremely improper, reads the latest statement on Saturday. "The company is conducting an investigation into the issue and maintains the right to seek the employee's legal responsibility," it continues.

Vitasoy said that it makes a "sincere apology" for the troubles and dissatisfaction its memo has caused. "We support the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and severely condemn violence and actions that harm the city's social stability," it reads.

However, the company's responses have not calm the online anger, as more netizens called for a full-scale boycott of the brand. 

The topic "Vitasoy" was ranked as the 29th on Chinese Twitter-like Weibo's hot search, with the posts read more than 460 million times as of press time on Sunday. While the mainland market contributed about HK$5 billion ($644 million) last year to the company, its business now faces huge uncertainties, some media reports said.

A customer service employee of the Dingdong Maicai confirmed with the Global Times on Sunday that the Vitasoy drink products have been removed. 

However, Vitasoy drink products are still available on China's e-commerce giants Inc and Taobao as of press time, but some stores in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, East China's Jiangsu Province and Central China's Hubei Province have already removed Vitasoy drink products from the shelves as of Sunday due to the incident, according to media reports.

"What we boycott is an enterprise that can't distinguish right from wrong," Andrew Fung Wai-kwong, a commentator in Hong Kong, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Without condemning the act of terrorism and sending condolences to the family members of the injured police officer, the latest behavior of Vitasoy further proved that this company failed to have moral sense, as no matter what the political opinion it has, terrorism is the public enemy of the world, Fung noted. 

"If we continue buying its products, does it mean we hold the same ambiguous attitude toward terrorism, or support a firm that showed no sympathy toward the injured police [officer]?" he asked. 

Qi Xijia also contributed to this story